8 Best Academy Award-Winning Live Action Short Films

Short films are a great way to introduce yourself if you are just starting out and want to reach your audience while having a limited budget.

Many renowned film directors have taken this path initially to present their ideas and later turned their short films into a full-length feature film when met with considerable success.

Short films give you a credible experience to learn about directing, casting and supervising overall production within allocated funds.

While a short film is your gateway to exposure and success for the future, it is also one of the ways to get recognition on bigger platforms such as Academy Awards and other film festivals.

In this piece, we will be talking about the best Oscar-winning live action short films, and what made them stand out from the rest.


Session Man – 1992

Session Man is a drama short film directed by Seth Winston. It won the Academy Award in 1992.

In the film, James Remar plays a session guitarist named McQueen. He gets hired by a popular hard rock band, Raging Kings to work on some of their tracks.

The band’s lead guitarist gets agitated by this and decides to quit. The band quickly replaces him with McQueen who has been waiting to fulfill his lifelong dream.

The lead guitarist eventually returns and the band decides to axe McQueen. He returns to his home after finishing up. When his wife asks how the session went, he replies, “Ok, just another session.”

The most striking thing about this short film is that it is heartbreaking and relatable on multiple levels. It speaks about certain events that shoot down your dreams, but you always learn to move on and try again.


Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life – 1995

Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life is a satirical comedy short film directed by the Twelfth Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi. It won the Academy Award in 1995.

In the film, Richard E. Grant plays the famous writer Franz Kafka, who is in constant feud with distractions all around him; keeping him from writing.

The story drew parallels with Frank Capra’s it’s a Wonderful Life by showing how Kafka, just like George Bailey, is stuck trying to find true purpose while dealing with external forces knocking at their doors looking for help.

Peter Capaldi developed the idea for this film when his wife had a slip of the tongue replacing Frank Capra with Franz Kafka.

Read more: Step-by-step Live Action Video Production Process


Election Night – 1998

Election Night is a Danish black comedy short film directed by Anders Thomas Jensen. It won the Academy Award in 1999.

In the film, Peter, played by Ulrich Thomsen, is in the bar calling out racist attitudes of his friend and the bartender.

He suddenly realizes that he has forgotten to cast his vote. On his way to the polling station, he encounters several taxi drivers who make crass and racist remarks about people with different ethnicities.

Upon reaching his destination, Peter becomes aware that it is too late to cast the vote. He insists that the polling officer let him vote and unknowingly makes a racist remark.

It would be fair to say that the film wants the audience to comprehend that everyone can be racist at some point without actually realizing it and most people tend to show off holier-than-thou attitudes.


Six Shooter – 2004

Six Shooter is a black comedy short film directed by Martin McDonagh. It won the Academy Award in 2006.

In the film, Brendan Gleeson stars as Donnelly whose wife has just passed away. On his way back from the hospital, he encounters more death, bizarre sequences and even fails to end his life.

The film puts grief, loss of faith and mortality into question through deadpan humor, and it banks on its leads’ well-rounded performances.


Curfew – 2012

Curfew is a dramedy short film directed by Shawn Christensen, which later laid the foundation for a full-length feature film: Before I Disappear.

In the film, Shawn himself stars as Richie who is on the brink of ending his life, but it all changes when he receives a surprising call from his estranged sister, Maggie, who requests him to babysit her daughter, Sophia.

Sophia initially refuses to speak to him, but when Richie shares his childhood stories, they start to connect and develop a friendship.

Richie would later return to ending his life until he gets interrupted again by Maggie’s call, but this time it ends on a better note.

Curfew delves into the matter of life and death and how one event or a phone call can transpire a whole new lifeline for a person. The film won the Academy Award in 2013


 The Phone Call – 2013

The Phone Call is a tearjerker. Directed by Mat Kirkby, it stars Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent as main leads in the film. It won the Academy Award for Live Action Short Film in 2015.

In the film, Sally Hawkins plays a volunteer as a phone operator in a crisis centre. She receives a phone call from Stan who reveals that he is finding it hard to go on after the death of his wife.

Racing against the time and trying to find ways to help the stranger, she is torn between going against Stan’s wishes to save his life or just staying put on the phone to have one last meaningful conversation.

It is beautiful, sad and mawkish. It makes the viewer question whether it was Stan who saved Sally Hawkins in the end.

Also, read: Live-Action Videos – What Drives up the Cost?


Helium – 2014

Helium is a Danish drama short film directed by Anders Walter. It won the Academy Award in 2014 and stars Casper Crump as one of the leads.

In the film, a young boy, Alfred, who is battling with an undisclosed terminal illness, strikes up a friendship with the hospital janitor, Enzo.

Alfred dislikes the idea of going to Heaven as it sounds very dull to him. So, Enzo starts to feed him stories of a place known as Helium as an alternative to Heaven, which Enzo seems to like.

The friendship with Enzo and the idea of Helium make it easier for Alfred to bear the last stage of his illness.

Helium explores the concepts of friendships and fantasy and how they can actually help someone get through a bad patch in life.


Sing – 2016

Sing is a Hungarian comedy-drama short film directed by Kristof Deak. It won the Academy Award in 2017 and is inspired by a true story.

In the film, a little girl known as Zsófi joins a festival-winning choir at her new school. But her teacher does not allow her to sing with the rest of the choir because of her singing skills.

Upon learning this, Zsófi’s friend Liza plans to sabotage the final performance at the competition by asking everyone to mime the lyrics instead of actually singing.

Liza’s plan frustrates the teacher to the point until she decides to storm off the stage. And the moment she leaves the hall, the choir starts to sing again.

This short film sheds a light on topics like social injustice, friendship and standing your ground. The idea to center the story around children proved to be a stroke of genius for Kristof Deak.


Final thoughts

Short films do not need to have complex stories and characters to be successful. They can be created with simple, funny and straightforward story lines to stand out from the crowd.


Posted by Adil Ashraf

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